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Fire District, City To Continue Talks
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Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District board president Susan Zanker presides over a special informational meeting. It was called to discuss what the district should do about an impending deadline for action against the city of Riverbank in its process for annexing and developing Crossroads West. Ric McGinnis/The News

Following a special meeting on Thursday, April 18, the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District was able to reach an agreement with the City of Riverbank to continue negotiations and prevent, or at least delay, a suit by the district.

The conflict comes over the city’s planned developer fees in the Crossroads West annexation area that was recently approved by the city council. The fees at issue are the charges to new businesses and residents for fire service on those 380 acres.

The SCFPD would need to buy property there to build an additional station, as well as equip and staff it.

The statutory deadline to file suit was 5 p.m. on Friday, April 19, so the fire district held its meeting last Thursday. It was a deadline to make a claim against the city over the fire impact fees and slow the annexation process. The district is concerned the city is setting fees too low to cover costs for additional fire service in that area.

The plan area is just west of current Riverbank city limits. It stretches from Claribel Road in the south to the MID canal, north of Morrill Road and from Oakdale Road, west to an MID canal.

At the Thursday meeting, legal counsel and board members of SCFPD did not know if they were going to be able to reach a ‘tolling agreement’ with the city, partially because it was not known if City Hall would be open on that Friday. It is normally closed on alternating Fridays.

One source defines the arrangement as “a tolling agreement, that waives a right to claim that litigation should be dismissed due to the expiration of a statute of limitations. Its purpose is typically to allow parties additional time to assess and determine the legitimacy and viability of their claims and/or the amount of their damages without the necessity of filing an action. During this period, the parties waive any defense by way of any statute of limitations which would otherwise arise during such period.”

Just after the deadline time, legal counsel for the district released a statement saying the two parties had reached an agreement to postpone the deadline to May 12, and continue their negotiations.

It reads, “The City of Riverbank and the District have agreed to a tolling agreement to extend the statutory period for the District to potentially file suit for the City’s failure to properly analyze fire service impacts associated with the Crossroads West Project. The District remains hopeful that the City will comply with the law and address fire safety impacts to ensure the safety of all current and future residents.”

As discussed in the public informational meeting on Thursday, the parties have serious differences in opinions about the amount of the assessment necessary to fully fund the needed services.

Several times during the discussion, board president Susan Zanker wondered why the process didn’t include the establishment of a Community Services District for fire. It could establish the necessary fees to provide fire services much like landscaping and lighting districts do in other parts of Riverbank.

So, ultimately, the result of last week’s discussion and action by the board and the city establishes a new deadline for them to complete their negotiations and set fees that both parties feel are appropriate.

In its special meeting, the SCFPD board was just able to meet its quorum requirement.

Of the five board members, only President Susan Zanker, and directors Steve Green, representing Waterford, and Greg Bernardi, an at-large director, were present.

Vice President Dave Woods, who represents Empire, and Michelle Guzman, of Riverbank, were absent.

Public hearings were held last month by the City of Riverbank as part of the resolutions adopted to proceed with the annexation project. With no apparent objection shown in those earlier meetings, the city was hoping to get the project in front of the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) in time to get an answer back by mid-June.

It is not known how this new deadline might impact that schedule.